I selected Michigan for our summer holiday this year. I won’t pretend that the drive was fun or easy although depriving greedy airlines of revenue certainly enhanced the appeal. I described my distaste for airlines before and I reveled in the many hundreds of dollars I denied them with this trip and several others over the years. We loaded the Family Truckster and pointed our sights northwest on a track towards Lake Michigan.
I considered multiple factors before choosing Michigan. I always want to go someplace I haven’t covered in depth before. It needed to have interesting hooks. It needed to be low-hassle, with room to stretch out. It needed to interest the rest of the family while indulging my geo-geeky curiosity. The southwestern corner of Michigan met many of those criteria, and I will describe what we found in subsequent articles. County Counting always fell high on my list and that may have been the most important factor this time around. I’d skirted edges of Michigan previously although I’d never pushed deep into its interior.
Maybe it was the second most important factor. I’ll save that for next time. Subscribers to the 12MC Twitter feed probably already guessed the other major reason based on my frequent tweeting as I rolled along.
Grand Rapids became our home base for the week. We took the fastest route available on the way up, shooting along the Pennsylvania and Ohio Turnpikes into Michigan, and staying overnight in Cleveland along the way. I gained no new counties during this initial leg until we passed Detroit. We arrived in Grand Rapids the second day and radiated from there on side trips, filling in much of southern Michigan with county captures.
Only once did I make a specific effort to prevent a doughnut hole. I noticed that none of our daily excursions went through Barry County (map), southeast of Grand Rapids. It fell within a ring formed by Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and Lansing with no major highway running through it. I got up early one morning for a half-hour drive to fill the void. I spared the rest of the family. I’m sure sure they appreciated sleeping more than the possible irritation of leaving a stranded county behind. Somehow they didn’t feel the same pain.
We came home via a longer route, swinging south and staying overnight in Columbus before cutting through West Virginia. I picked up a bunch of new counties. I’d also never seen Ohio’s Appalachian corner either. Who knew Ohio had mountains? I plan to keep Ohio’s Hocking Hills on the list of places I want to see again someday, and them visit in a more proper manner.
Schoolcraft and Cabinets
Two distinct forces contributed to the designation of Michigan counties. Henry Schoolcraft named many of them in the mid Nineteenth Century, a curious case I discussed in Schoolcraft Daze. He made them up, drawing from pseudo-Native American etymologies blended with Latin, Greek or whatever else came to mind. The Schoolcraft counties included Alcona, Allegan, Alpena, Arenac, Iosco, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Lenawee, Oscoda and Tuscola. I captured Lenawee and re-visited Allegan.
Michigan also contained the Cabinet Counties. The Michigan Territory hoped to curry favor with President Andrew Jackson in a border dispute with Ohio involving the Toledo Strip — I’ll talk about the Strip a little more in a future installment so hang on — and named a bunch of its southern counties for Jackson and his Cabinet:
Barry: Postmaster General
Berrien: Attorney General
Branch: Secretary of the Navy
Calhoun: Vice President
Cass: Secretary of War
Eaton: Secretary of War (prior to Cass)
Ingham: Secretary of the Treasury
Livingston: Secretary of State
Van Buren: Secretary of State (prior to Livingston; later Vice President and President)
My final count of Cabinet Counties lacked only Cass by the time I finished the trip. I’d captured Berrien and Van Buren previously, and hit the other seven for the first time during this latest excursion. Incidentally, while Jackson signed a bill making Michigan a state in 1837, the Toledo Strip went to Ohio. The county name pandering failed to produce its desired result although Michigan did get the Upper Peninsula as a consolation prize.
Grand Rapids in Kent Co., MI (my own photo)
I did well during this exercise, tallying initial visits in three different states.
Sixteen in Michigan (Barry, Branch, Calhoun, Clinton, Eaton, Hillsdale, Ingham, Ionia, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Kent, Lenawee, Livingston, Muskegon, Oakland and Washtenaw)
Seven in Ohio (Athens, Delaware, Hancock, Hocking, Marion, Washington and Wyandot)
Three in West Virginia (Doddridge, Ritchie and Wood)
That came to a respectable Twenty Six new counties.
The Counties that Got Away
I could have visited more, and in fact that had been my original plan. Several years ago I visited Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and I thought the kids would enjoy it. However they were simply too tired from our relentless touring to drive another six hours in a single day. We hung around Grand Rapids that day instead. I willingly abandoned the opportunity to capture seven counties to preserve family peace. I took that as a sign I needed to visit again someday!
For the obvious reason, any geographic feature related to circles will make it onto the pages of Twelve Mile Circle eventually. I collect examples as I encounter them until I have enough to write an entire article. This is the latest batch.
Circle, Montana proclaimed itself to be "A Great Place to be Around" although it lacked a circle. The town followed a typical grid pattern of squares and rectangles with its boundaries aligned to cardinal directions (map). It didn’t appear to represent a case of squaring the circle either. Did the circle represent something other than a geographic designation? Of course it did, as the town explained,
… inherited its name from the brand of the Mabry Cattle Corporation who came here in 1884. It was common at that time for a ranch to be known by its brand rather than the company or major owner’s name. In 1905 Peter Rorvik started a store and post office in the old ranch house and naturally name the Post Office "Circle". The little town catered to ranchers and farmers. When McCone County was formed in 1919 Circle won the county seat, an important factor in the towns growth.
The town grew until 1960 when its population peaked at a little more than eleven hundred residents. It hemorrhaged population every census afterwards and housed barely six hundred residents by the 2010 Census. It seemed to suffer from a lack of opportunity, a common fate for isolated villages located far away from the cities. Circle even gained some minor media attention for its remoteness. The website Quartz described it as "the spot that is the farthest from any Starbucks in the continental United States—more than 192 miles from the nearest green-aproned barista."
Atlanta’s Original 1-Mile Circle
Twelve Mile Circle once discussed the odd circular layout of numerous Georgia towns founded in the Nineteenth Century. The notion appeared in articles such as Shaped Like it Sounds and Georgia’s Enigma. I didn’t realize the same situation also applied to Georgia’s powerhouse capital, Atlanta. Multiple annexations and decades of sprawl obliterated all evidence of its original circle long before any of us lived. I credited reader "Bo" for bringing this curious footnote to my attention a few months ago. He found a tantalizing reference to its original one-mile radius in Wikipedia’s Atlanta Annexations and Wards page.
The roots of Atlanta extended back to a settlement called Terminus, so named because it marked the southeastern terminus of the Western & Atlantic Railroad in 1837. The railroad marked this spot with a stone Zero Mile Post bearing an appropriate inscription. Georgia also used the marker to anchor a transportation hub for railroads converging from multiple directions. Subsequent planning led to a slight realignment of the Zero Mile Post to its present location in 1842 (map) and the town became Atlanta. Indeed, Atlanta began with a radius of a single mile that later expanded to 1.5 miles in 1866, then 1.75 miles in 1889, then finally ignored the premise of a circle altogether and it grew wherever it wanted.
The marker still existed at its 1842 location although its placement became quite unusual. A modern building covered the geographic footprint of the Zero Mile Post so the city moved the marker underground, into the building’s basement. Various websites including one provided by the National Park Service described how to find it.
The Western and Atlantic Railroad Zero Milepost, within the Underground Atlanta Historic District, is located under the Central Ave. viaduct, between Alabama and Wall sts. It is inside a building that currently houses the Georgia State University Security Office. To reach this site, enter the parking garage at the corner of Central Ave. and Alabama St., take the elevator to the basement, and ask for directions to the Security Office.
A June 2016 article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution provided updated information and a dose of bad news. The Georgia Building Authority owned the now vacant building. That placed the marker off limits and closed to the public. Maybe that will change when tenants reoccupy the space.
I considered a dome somewhat circular so it seemed to fit the theme. I noticed a reference to the Teapot Dome Scandal and decided to find the alleged dome. A little context may be in order for the 12MC audience. I always considered Teapot Dome to be such a ridiculous name for a scandal, like it couldn’t have been all that serious given its silly title. However, it came to signify the single greatest act of political corruption in United States history when it happened in 1922. It was the Watergate of the early Twentieth Century.
The U.S. Navy began shifting fuel for its ships from coal to oil, making oil a strategic asset. The government set aside several reserves so it would always have enough oil for its vessels should a hostile nation ever cut-off the supply. It designated one of the reserves at Wyoming’s Teapot Dome (map) and commercial oil companies could not drill there.
Warren Harding then became President in 1921 and appointed a bunch of his cronies to powerful government jobs. This including Albert Fall who became Secretary of the Interior. Fall then convinced Harding to transfer responsibilities for the reserves from the Navy to the Department of the Interior. Fall also took bribes from a couple of his oil baron friends and allowed them to drill within the reserves. Wyoming officials blew the whistle on Fall and the story caught fire in the newspapers. Fall went to prison for accepting bribes, a first for a sitting Cabinet-level official. Harding also probably would have been impeached if he hadn’t died in office. Oddly, those who bribed Fall escaped convictions.
Teapot Dome used to look a lot more like a teapot before its "spout" broke off.
I came home sooner than I would have wanted, the journey over, a feeling that always seemed to settle upon me after a trek through hidden rural corners. I decompressed and began to process a trove of memories, sharing many of them with the Twelve Mile Circle audience. Some of those thoughts didn’t fit neatly into bundles so I collected them into their own indiscriminate pile.
By now I’m sure everyone figured out that I finally got to see Steve from CTMQ in person again. We met for dinner at a well-regarded restaurant, Millwright’s in Simsbury, Connecticut (map). We caught-up on a lot of things since our epic Connecticut Road Trip of years ago and swapped a couple of rare bottles of craft beer to enjoy later.
Go read Steve’s blog. His writing and insight is much better than mine.
Reader "Joel" sent a message last March about a place he’d seen on a map of Northfield, Massachusetts. It was called Satan’s Kingdom. Indeed it was a real place and clearly included in the US Geological Survey’s Geographic Names Information System. There was even a Satan’s Kingdom Wildlife Management Area with a nice trail that followed "an old logging road from Old Vernon Rd. to the top of the ridge" with a "view of the valley."
I tried my hardest to find the history of Satan’s Kingdom and how it earned its devilish name. The only real source I saw, such as it was, came from a segment aired on a local television station. A person who worked at the wildlife management area explained that the name traced back to colonial times. It wasn’t meant to reference anything truly satanic, rather it served as a warning to people long ago that they needed to be careful in an uncharted area. There might be hostile animals or other dangers. That explanation seemed a lot more plausible than legends of demons roaming the dark woods as I bet circulated around Northfield.
Of course I had to visit Satan’s Kingdom and sift through the evidence firsthand. First I had to find it. I’d seen photographs on the Intertubes although nobody specified the exact location. I took an educated guess and picked the right spot. It was time for me to do my good deed for the day — the sign was at the trailhead, specifically at latitude/longitude 42.705583,-72.492348. You’re welcome. Tell Beelzebub I said hello.
Well, at least I didn’t dedicate an entire article to brewery visits this time like I’ve done before. My philosophy remained the same, that I needed to eat somewhere so it might as well be a place with decent beer. I visited ten breweries and/or brewpubs during the excursion, all but Harpoon for the first time.
The five bronze sculptures include Dr. Seuss busily working at his drawing board with the Cat in the Hat standing at his side as his muse, and lots of other favorite Dr. Seuss characters such as Horton the Elephant, Yertle the Turtle, the Grinch and his dog Max, the Lorax, Gertrude McFuzz, Things One and Two, and the lovable Thidwick the Moose.
The official website for the sculpture garden then went on to explain,
Theodor Seuss Geisel was born on Howard Street in Springfield in 1904 and grew up on Fairfield Street in the city’s Forest Park neighborhood. His father was a parks commissioner and was in charge of the Forest ParkZoo, a regular playground for young Theodor Geisel. Springfield imagery can be seen throughout his work in the names of streets, the drawings of buildings, the names of his characters, and numerous other references.
It’s been a long time since I read any Dr. Seuss tales although I remembered all of his characters fondly. The sculpture garden brought back a flood of pleasant memories from childhood. Someday I’ll have to see if I can find any of those Springfield references. There must have been some pretty odd places in town if buildings in Springfield influenced the architecture of Dr. Seuss books.
Oh Yeh, Natural Beauty
My whirlwind tour did little justice to an appreciation of the natural beauty of New England. We drove from race-to-race, touring each afternoon as we could, then going to bed tired and early so we would be ready for the next race starting at 6:00 am. That didn’t give us nearly enough time to really dig in and enjoy all that the scenery had to offer. Everything was a quick drive-by, a blur. Still, beauty sometimes appeared unexpectedly; a mountain view from a highway, a small town set deep within a hollow, a stream flowing through forest. The races were all held in very rural locations and sometimes the terrain provided wonderful backdrops, like these rapids in Vermont (map). I don’t think most of the runners noticed it though.